Divorcing A Civilian Spouse? How Can You Protect Your Pension?

If you've recently returned from a lengthy deployment to a marriage that is on rocky grounds, you're not alone. Whether due to infidelity or simply lives growing apart with the distance, studies have shown that months upon months of deployment can significantly increase the risk of divorce for military couples -- particularly those in which the service member is female or both spouses are members of the military. If you're talking divorce with your spouse, you may be concerned about protecting the assets you've earned during your marriage, especially your military pension. What can you do to protect your pension? Will providing evidence of your spouse's infidelity or other failings help you keep more of your assets? Read on to learn more about these sensitive issues.

How does military divorce differ from civilian divorce?

Although military divorces are routed through the same court systems and judges as civilian divorces, there are several additional protections for both the military and civilian spouses. Federal laws govern the service of divorce papers and speed of the process when one party is deployed out of state (or out of the country), giving the military member more time to respond to the divorce pleadings than a civilian spouse would have. And unlike civilian marriages, where a pension earned by one party may be off the table during settlement negotiations, a civilian spouse is likely to be awarded at least some portion of your military pension beginning at retirement.

What can you do to protect your pension?

Because of the transient lifestyle of many military members, military spouses can have trouble establishing themselves in a career and saving for retirement outside your military salary. As a result, when you divorce a civilian spouse, it's likely that you'll be required to sign over at least part of your pension. This will reduce the amount you'll receive at retirement and could require you to continue working and saving in order to even afford to retire.

There are a few things you can do to help protect the bulk of your pension or even avoid giving it up entirely.

Agree to spousal support

For younger military members or those in fairly brief marriages, the payment of spousal support or alimony for a certain period of time after the divorce may be a more palatable option than giving up even part of your pension.

Point out job training opportunities

If your spouse has had ample opportunity to seek higher education or job training, or had chances to work his or her way up in a career (for example, if you rarely moved for deployments and had no children), you may be able to persuade the judge that he or she is capable of being self-supporting without your pension.

Set dollar limits

If it appears inevitable that you'll be required to give up part of your pension, you'll want to set a strict dollar limit. Because your pension is only set to increase with time and future military service, any open-ended agreements or percentages of the total will increase your spouse's total, even though your marriage is over.

Can providing evidence of your spouse's marital wrongs help your case?

Many states are "no fault" when it comes to divorce -- this means that unless your spouse committed an act for which he or she could be (or was) criminally charged, courts don't give much thought to who cheated on whom or why the marriage broke down. In other states, you may be required to provide evidence affirming that your marriage is irreparable. However, even these states don't always use this information to divide assets, simply to ensure that the divorce is being granted for a valid reason.

Because of this, it's unlikely that providing evidence of your spouse's wrongdoing will help protect your pension or other marital assets. Although your story may elicit incredible sympathy from friends and family members, a judge's job is simply to ensure that each party walks away from a marriage with enough income and assets to remain self-supporting, regardless of how horrible one spouse's conduct was.

For more help with your case, you should contact an attorney that specializes in military divorce